Who'd be an open world RPG in the wake of Skyrim? Hell, who'd be a video game in the wake of Skyrim?
Bethesda's epic is less game-changer than game-ender; a virtual life bordering on virtual prison. Think The Matrix with better beards. Kingdoms of Amalur attempts to follow this towering achievement with something considerably breezier. It boasts the same vast volume - courtesy of Oblivion lead designer Ken Rolston - but delivers in manageable chunks.
Amalur's lighter touch begins with heavier combat. Hack-and-slash is the order of the day, with evasive rolls and shield counters giving our hero a Kratos-lite appearance.
For an RPG it's swift and immediate, capturing a natural flow rarely permitted by the genre's statistical bent. That attacks are spun from a single face button is a nice touch. For one, it frees up other buttons for secondary weapons - letting you quickly swap between lumbering swords and vicious knife stabs or sniping arrows. But more than that, it's a proper step towards tearing down barriers to entry.
Of course, lower barriers too far and you run the risk of lobotomising the combat. Reckoning deftly avoids descending into button-mashing monotony with lots of juicy loot. Not only do different weapon types require the learning of new fighting styles - heaving a hammer is a fair bit different to peppering a torso with faeblade stabs - but their varying elemental buffs add further complications.
Knowing what weapon to use on which enemy requires just enough thought to keep you engaged. And, hell, after Skyrim's 'you bash me, I bash you', it's practically Bayonetta.
It's not all gold. If 38 Studios can school the Bethesda boys about sword-on-head action, they get their ass handed to them the second they step onto the target range. Controlled via auto-aim, Reckoning's long-distance murdering is a tepid affair. As long as you can press a button, you can win.
For the game to put such emphasis on practical swordplay only to steal control for prospective archers and mages is pretty bizarre. Investing in either skill tree ups projectile number and strength, but never delivers a single thrill.
POINTS MEAN DIE-ZES
No, melee is the focus. The more points you pump into it, the better it gets. Good thing, considering the hours spent sticking pointy things into soft things. Amalur is single-minded in its pursuit of violence, offering few strategic alternatives.
Players can placate the odd boss with the persuasion skill and invest in stealth to stab lone guards, but action mostly insists on funnelling you from brawl to brawl. Fun in small bloodthirsty bursts, but too one note for weekend binge sessions. Fact is, there's only so many yarns quest designers can spin when their vocabulary consists of 'kill', 'maim', 'pummel' and 'smash'.
To be fair, 38 Studios do disguise their limited action spectrum with comprehensive lore. You may only be killing spiders in a cave, but you can be damned sure the locals have something to say about the cave, the spiders, the last guy who wEnt to the cave, the sister of the last guy who went to the cave... it's like talking to Wikipedia (Fantasy Nonsense Edition).
And that's before broaching the geopolitics of Amalur's warring factions. Forget hack-and-slash, this is chat-and-slash - and it'll divide action-hungry barbarians and myth-loving nerds accordingly.
It's endearingly old-fashioned, too. With its elves, gnomes and character names that resemble unwinnable Scrabble hands, Amalur's fiction rejects the brittle Norse influence currently in vogue thanks to Game of Thrones and Skyrim.
That said, don't expect a laugh riot. Reckoning is dismally earnest, not helped by a hammy cast of Brit sound-alikes (Almost Pete Postlethwaite! Sort Of Terence Stamp! Not Even Close To Malcolm McDowell!). Fantasy author R A Salvatore allegedly plotted 10,000 years of Amalur history - didn't one funny thing happen in 10,000 years?